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Brief for Resource Managers

Effects of climate change on sagebrush regeneration at the
leading and trailing edge of its distribution
Victoria Pennington, Trace Martyn, Kyle Taylor, Caitlin
Rottler, Kellen N Nelson, Daniel R Schlaepfer, and
William K Lauenroth | University of Wyoming
Contact: William Lauenroth,
In the United States, the current distribution of big
sagebrush ranges from Washington and California east
to the Dakotas and Nebraska. In the future, areas
where sagebrush will expand, the leading edge, are
predicted to be on the northern edge of its current
range—predominately northeast Montana. Conversely,
areas where the current sagebrush distribution is
predicted to contract, the trailing edge, reside at the
southern edge of the current distribution, including the
Great Basin. Both of these projected shifts are most
likely in response to predicted increased minimum
temperature and changes in precipitation amount and
seasonality. Climate and hydrological factors have the
potential to strongly affect sagebrush regeneration
because sagebrush does not reproduce asexually and
depends solely on germination rates and seedling
survival. By exploring these relationships using an
ecohydrologic simulation model, we found that
sagebrush germination is not expected to be limiting at
either the leading or trailing edge. However, seedling
survival was expected to decrease at the trailing edge
while increasing at the leading edge.

Utah State University

Management Implications

Seed germination is unlikely to change at
either the leading or trailing edge.
Seedling survival is expected to decrease at
the trailing edge while increasing at the
leading edge.
Actions to enhance seedling survival would
be beneficial at both the leading and trailing

Figure 1. The future sagebrush distribution leading edge is
represented in blue and the future trailing edge is
represented in red. Image from: Schlaepfer et al 2012.

Most relevant references:
Schlaepfer, DR, WK Lauenroth, and JB Bradford. 2012. Effects
of ecohydrological variables on current and future ranges,
local suitability patterns, and model accuracy in big
sagebrush. Ecohydrology 35:374-384.
Schlaepfer, DR, WK Lauenroth, and JB Bradford. 2014.
Modeling regeneration responses of big sagebrush (Artemisia
tridentata) to abiotic conditions. Ecological Modelling 286:6677.
Schlaepfer, D. R., W. K. Lauenroth, and J. B. Bradford. 2014.
Regeneration processes in big sagebrush (Artemisia
tridentata). Rangeland Ecology & Management 67:344-357.

Figure 2. Mean fraction of simulated years suitable for
sagebrush germination and seedling survival for the leading
(blue) and trailing (red) edges under current climate (lightest
shade), RCP4.5 (medium shade), and RCP8.5 (darkest shade)
emission scenarios. Values are means are among sites for
current climate and for future scenarios values are means of
16 GCMs. Error bars are 1 SD.

Utah State University

Utah State University